On Jealousy

And this piece is also about sex. Newcomers to this blog should note: I write about sex in this blog, rather a lot. In fact, this blog started out being largely a sex blog. I do usually begin my sex posts with a heads-up, so family members and co-workers and others who don’t want to read the sex stuff can go look at the cute cat pictures or something instead. This is that heads-up: I talk about sex in this post. It’s not particularly smutty as my sex posts go, but it does talk a certain amount about my own personal sex life. If you don’t want to read that, please hang up now.

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

On Jealousy

It’s a little odd to be writing about this. I’m not naturally a very jealous person: I’ve had moments, but to some extent I’m writing this from an outsider’s perspective.

An outsider’s perspective can be useful, though. With jealousy in particular. When you’re in its throes, jealousy is a uniquely difficult emotion to have a rational perspective on.

So in my “used to experience it a fair amount, still get twinges occasionally, but mostly seeing how it affects others” perspective, I’ve broken sexual and romantic jealousy into three basic categories. (I’m setting aside for now the accurate, justified, “your partner is in fact screwing around behind your back/ without your consent/ in violation of your non-monogamy agreement” variety. I’m trying to get at jealousy over feelings and desires, not over actual broken promises and threats to the relationship. Although it’s important to note that these aren’t the same, as it can be easy to confuse them.)

First: There’s the jealousy you get when your partner genuinely wants to screw someone else. They’re not planning to do it, mind you, but they’re pretty attracted to a specific other person or people, for a sustained period.

This, I understand. I don’t experience it much myself, but I get twinges, and I understand it. If your partner is sincerely yearning to do someone else, it can feel like a threat — what if they leave me for him/her? It can make you feel insecure, not just about the relationship but about yourself — what does that person have that I don’t? And it can just be hurtful, make you feel unwanted and left out. It’s not the most useful emotion in the world — if you’re with someone for long enough, this sort of thing is going to happen, and I think it’s a mistake to treat it as a crisis — but the emotion isn’t unreasonable.

Second: There’s the jealousy you get when your partner is attracted to other people. Not in an intense, “Every time I see this particular person I’m dying to fuck them” way, but in a casually swivel-headed, “Hey, you’re kinda cute” way.

It can be easy to confuse this with the first kind. But I think it’s vitally important to the health of a relationship to understand: these are not the same. And while the first kind of jealousy is reasonable (if not especially helpful), I think the second kind really isn’t.

If your partner is casually attracted to other people, it doesn’t mean they have a serious desire to screw around on you. It just means that they’re, you know, alive. Human beings are animals, and a healthy human being with a healthy sexual appetite is going to get a hard cock/ wet pussy when they’re around other human beings who look like hot stuff.

In fact, I would argue that trying to shut down your sexual attraction to other people is a first-class way to shut down your sexuality altogether. Which, for obvious reasons, is a bad idea. “I only have eyes for you” is a pretty dream, but it’s not a reasonable expectation in real life.

And you know what? Not everyone you’re attracted to is someone you really want to fuck. For me, this realization was one of the main benefits of non-monogamy. When I was in monogamous relationships, it was a major source of deprivation and angst every time I got the bad hots for someone else. Now that I’m non-monogamous, I realize I don’t actually want to fuck every person I get the hots for. Some people are cute but crazy; some people become less interesting once you get to know them; and sometimes I just don’t have time and energy for an extracurricular fling. Non-monogamy has paradoxically made my attraction to other people a much less big deal.

So Important Observation #1: If your partner gets passing fancies for other people, it doesn’t mean they’re deeply pining to screw around. It just means they’re alive and healthy and sexual. Think about all the people you’ve had passing fancies for. Did you seriously want to chase them down, to the point where you’d break your promises to your sweetie? If not, then I respectfully suggest that you chill.

Third and last, we have jealousy of people in your partner’s past. Plenty of people get angry or hurt when their partner talks about their exes, even in casual conversation. And plenty more don’t want their partners to have any contact with their exes, much less stay friends with them.

And this, I think, is the most unreasonable jealousy of all.

To be fair, my partner’s exes are about the last people on the planet she’d have sex with now. Even if I were monogamous and jealous, I’d still be entirely unconcerned about her exes. Ditto for her with mine.

But I realize that’s not true for everyone. Some people do still hold a glint in their eye for an ex or two.

So much more to the point:

What did you expect?

Of course your partner has exes. If you’re grownups, if you’re not teenagers and virgins, your partner is going to have exes. Probably a fair few.

And your partner’s exes are part of what makes them who they are, the person you love. Expecting them to not talk or think about their exes is like expecting them to not talk or think about their old jobs, their old schools, the places they used to live. It’s asking them to cut off a major part of their history and what shaped their character.

And you know, if they can get over past hurts enough to be friends with their exes, that’s not a threat to you. It’s a sign of sanity and strength. Not something you want to squelch.

In a way, I get it. This kind of jealousy can easily overlap with the first — your partner did have sex with this other person, it’s not wildly improbable to think they might want to again. But if you don’t want to live in Victorian England, if you want to be a sane grownup in a modern relationship, you need to accept that your partner has sexual attractions to, and a sexual history with, other people. If you don’t, you’re asking them to cut off a huge part of their sexuality — from you, and from themselves.

On Jealousy
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5 thoughts on “On Jealousy

  1. 1

    All good points, though maybe I can offer a perspective about some of these, as I unfortunately do struggle with jealousy from time to time, in all these ways.
    It has nothing to do with whether or not my partner would actually have sex with the other people or not. We’re non-monogamous as well, but either way, the sex is almost irrelevant. I’m not concerned that he’ll leave me for someone else – he never would. I don’t perceive these people (in most cases – I perceive threat where there is threat, i.e. if the person is cute but crazy, but that’s rare) as a threat to our relationship, and if he has sex with them, or doesn’t, it doesn’t matter.
    It’s entirely, for me, about emotion. I get jealous because I want to feel like he wants me most of all, desires me more and better than anyone else. And when I hear about strong desires from his past, present, or future, it sometimes makes me feel jealous because I perceive him as wanting them more than me. When I feel secure in his desire, I couldn’t care less if he wants to fuck everyone that passes by. When I don’t, a glance at a waitress can make my stomach twist.
    So while I agree that non-monogamy does help one realize that attraction does not always or even often lead to sex, it doesn’t matter, because attraction is the issue, not sex.
    Are you loving my long-winded comments yet? Sorry about that. 🙂

  2. 2

    Hmm, what about jealously in the sense that your partner wants to screw/be with another person, and you honestly believe that the only reason they don’t/aren’t is because they aren’t attractive enough to that person, and so have settled for you?

  3. 3

    I really love your atheist philosophy stuff. You’re so smart and present your case so methodically, so cogently, I get a great deal out each and every one. I am so much better prepared to brave the world of godheads because of them. I am happier in
    general because I am more confident in my place in this increasingly mindless, theocratic society. Thank you.
    This post hits close to home with me and the Mrs. We’ve experienced several degrees of each of the three flavors of jealousy in our 19 years together. There are some events and consequences of events that are the source and result of significant pain inflicted by the green-eyed monster. It might be good for us to try to compartmentalize the Jealousies into the appropriate bin. I will share this.
    But, I must admit, I sure like reading your relationship/sex/porno stuff. I especially liked “Oral Arguments”, and “Sex Offenders Hysteria” is a point that I’ve argued on more than one occasion. And “Are We Having Sex Now” gave me pause to reconsider “the numbers” as I realize that, once I broadened the range of past behaviors that I choose to qualify as sex, a bunch more people slide into the mix. A topic I’ve examined in my own life before. Very insightful.
    Good stuff once again!

  4. 4

    For the people who mention jealousy in connection with emotion, like wanting to be #1 in their spouse’s eyes, I suggest reading:
    http://www.xeromag.com/fvpolypiano.html – How To Be A Secure Person
    http://tacit.livejournal.com/148633.html -Some Thoughts On Being Special
    http://tacit.livejournal.com/171501.html – Some Thoughs On Specialness
    And just in general keep an eye on http://www.xeromag.com/fvpoly.html and http://tacit.livejournal.com – he is actually coming out with a book on Practical Poly. Most of the concepts in being happily poly, I believe are necessary for being happily monogamous too. Being non-monogamous is not about how many partners you can collect, it’s about being whole and tailoring your relationship to suit your needs and those of everyone else in it to the maximum of happiness. Communication, trust, intimacy, these are all necessary for monogamy, but it seems only non-monogamous people spend any time intentionally thinking, discussing and working on these tools.

  5. 5

    Oh, and btw, thanks for the blog! A friend pointed me towards it and I’ve subscribed. You make many of the points I find myself making on many different subjects, including atheism, sexuality and non-monogamy and relationships. I am now including your blog in my arsenal of links when I refer people to what I am trying to say but not saying as well as it could be said.

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